Focusing on the future

12 July 2023

I was fortunate to attend the Nelson regional final of the Young Grower of the Year last Friday, where Dillion Paterson (pictured with me on the night) was announced the winner. I also attended the Ahuwhenua Awards Dinner in early June, where Grace Rehu won the 2023 Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower award.

In between, I have taken part in several grower meetings and at the start of next month, HortNZ – in partnership with several product groups and sponsors – will bring hundreds of growers together through the inaugural, Horticulture Conference Week. Click here to find out more about conference week, including who the sponsors and speakers are. 

Considerable investment across the horticulture industry is made in events and meetings that bring growers together. Sometimes these events serve a particular purpose – for example, finding out more about proposals and gathering feedback on these proposals; or finding out more about decisions and how they affect growers. Other events are a chance for growers to reflect while at the same time, offering them the opportunity to come together for a good yarn, while celebrating the success of our industry. 

Growers grow because they are passionate about what they grow. Even though times are tough for many growers, the passion comes through in conversation, and there’s this strong drive to get back out there and grow – particularly if the sun is shining as it was in Gisborne the other week.

The strength of this passion cannot be underestimated but also, it cannot be taken advantage of. Organisations such as HortNZ try and reflect growers’ passion in their advocacy while maintaining dialogue with groups who have not experienced the passion, let alone understand where it comes from.

Sometimes the passion is overwhelming. This puts HortNZ in a difficult position. Our objective is to achieve as much as we can for growers in environments where many different things are taken into consideration. Call this the art of politics with a small ‘p’, even though it involves interaction with Politics with a big ‘P’.

Last week, I asked growers affected by adverse weather events in the North Island to give the Government some time to work through the detail of the financial instruments that have been announced. On reflection I was asking growers to cool their passion, as hard as that is for growers as passionate as ours are. I still believe this has been the best course of action to take, as it will enable officials to develop the detail, and not get distracted by the passion.

We need to focus on the future but not only the future of our industry. We rely on society’s support to grow. The term we give this is ‘social licence’. Yes, we could take a more militant approach, but HortNZ doesn’t believe that is in the best interests of the whole industry, because that could bring into question our social licence. 

New Zealanders by and large are very supportive of our country’s horticulture industry. Indeed, they are proud, particularly when they see our produce on shelves overseas. Our industry has so many things going for it, now and in the future, particularly in terms of adaption to climate change and increasing New Zealand’s production of low carbon food. 

We are at a crossroads, thanks to the impact of Covid and ongoing adverse weather events. The Government – and taxpayers – are offering us support, because they do see the value of our industry and the healthy food that we produce.

However, the country doesn’t have infinite resources. Every day, there are news reports of a deepening deficit for the country with many other sectors and industries also calling out for Government support.